Few things in life are as exciting as the Ashes; that and a test series between Pakistan and India. One thing however is better: A tour of South Africa to England and an epic clash for the number one spot in world cricket. It all starts today. England is slightly better than the 2008-team that fell victim to the Proteas on home soil. The Protea-team is better and probably the best ever to represent South Africa. This Protea team is a seriously good one and if they play to their full potential South Africans will probably relive the feeling of 2008: England might have invented the game but the Proteas came close to perfecting it.
The series starting today on the Kennington Oval was surely specially created by the gods in cricket heaven. England is not the most exiting opponent; I believe that honour goes to India but this is to determine the world’s best team. That alone is enough to make this the most significant series for the Proteas since readmission – well, maybe ever.
Dale Steyn says the Proteas are the best in the world but to add official status to the belief, Dale and mates need to beat England in England. They need to add a “rubber stamp” to their suspicions because right now England is ranked the best. Currently England is ranked 122; Australia, 116; and South Africa, 113. It is all very confusing and virtually impossible to fathom why Australia is ranked higher than the Proteas. However, there is no need to debate the relevance of the criteria that establishes team rankings. The bottom-line is that if South Africa defeats the English they will propel themselves to the number 1 spot.
England’s batters are used to swing and based on that they believe they have an edge over the Proteas’ bowlers. However, no amount of batting against swing will prepare them for the quick and late swing Dale Steyn produces. And then there is Vernon Philander, probably one of the most natural and prodigious swingers of a cricket ball in many decades. If the ball swings at the Oval the myth of England’s superiority over swing will be exposed. Steyn is willing and ready and so is Philander and Kallis and only a fool will be too confident that the English batters have a few over them. Morkel adds to their firing power and the bounce and pace he could extract from the Oval will be as damaging for the opponents.
The same can happen to the Protea batters but they only need to worry about James Anderson and he lost heaps of pace. If the Proteas win the toss they will bowl and from there on they should not lose on the Oval; not if the volumes of rain predicted for the first three days materialise. The Proteas will realise a score of 280 in the first innings could set up a win. If South Africa bats first they must at least get that score. That is enough reason to select Albie Morkel over Imran Tahir. The Oval will not be generous to the spinners and if needed JP Duminy can provide variety.
England is not sitting pretty and the ongoing fight between KP Pietersen and the ECB probably influences the team spirit. It is mindboggling that the ECB announced the exclusion of KP from the provisional T20 squad on the eve of the Oval-test. Questions are asked about Graeme Swann’s fitness and the nature of his arm injury. England lacks an experienced sixth batter and a backup bowler to assist the four specialists. A matter of huge concern is Andrew Strauss’ effectiveness against express short balls. If any of these things could open the door for the Proteas they must force the issue and capitalise on it.
The Proteas also have their bothers: the abilities of their opening pair, limited match preparation, a choice between Tahir and Albie Morkel, the after effects of the Mark Boucher-injury and Jacques Kallis’ abilities in England.
With all, the rain a draw seems the most logical outcome at the Oval. The Proteas must not kick off on a losing note and in context of the series and their “problems” with the Oval a draw could be as good as a victory. Their approach should be not to lose this one at all costs.